By Army 1st Lt. Stephen Harmon
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2009 - Combat Outpost al-Gharraf, formerly named Joint Security Station Jenkins, signifies the transition from coalition to Iraqi control that has swept across the country. The new U.S.-Iraq security agreement has pushed the Iraqi security forces into the forefront of all operations across the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team area of responsibility, as well as throughout Iraq.
The brigade covers Iraq's Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna provinces. Company A, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, also known as the "Thunder Horse" Battalion, is located here along with soldiers of the 10th Iraqi Army Division's 2nd Battalion, 40th Brigade.
Combat Outpost al-Gharraf is situated between the cities of Ash Shatrah and Gharraf, allowing the U.S. troops to work with the Iraqi military without disturbing the citizens of nearby Nasiriyah. The ability of Iraqi and American servicemembers to visit local religious and political leaders enhances their ability to protect the Iraqi citizens, officials said.
Thunder Horse soldiers train both Iraqi soldiers and policemen here while conducting checkpoint operations and Iraqi government facility assessments.
"The [outpost] is home to me," Army Sgt. Marcus DeAntoni of Belleville, Ill., said. "Everything is nearby, and this base has helped improve our partnership with the Iraqis."
When the U.S. regiment first arrived at the security station, it had two sinks with running water and no showers or air conditioning in the middle of 130-degree summer days. The troops washed their clothes by hand and built observation posts while performing operations with their Iraqi counterparts every day.
"What we have done with limited supplies has shown me that American soldiers still have what it takes to get the job done, no matter what the mission," said Army Pfc. Shane Darst, a Thunder Horse soldier and native of Marengo, Ohio.
The outpost now has climate-controlled rooms, a large-screen television, a dining facility that serves one hot meal daily, an Internet café, an improved motor pool, washing machines and dryers, a rifle range and new latrines.
Along with performing daily training with their American counterparts, the Iraqi troopers began to establish better living habits and a deeper sense of pride in their service.
"The language of soldiering is the same," Lt. Col. Abdullah, the Iraqi battalion commander, said. "We perform the same tasks, whether Iraqi or American. Therefore, communication is easy."
The Iraqi troops have taught the Thunder Horse Battalion's soldiers how to better identify criminals, and have offered valuable knowledge about the native customs and traditions of the Dhi Qar province.
Combat Outpost al-Gharraf originally was named Joint Security Station Jenkins by the Thunder Horse Battalion soldiers in honor of Army Staff Sgt. Kenneth A. Jenkins, a member of the 4th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team. The unit reflagged as the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team after Jenkins was killed in Baghdad on Aug. 12, 2006.
A picture of Jenkins sits next to the unit's guidon as a constant reminder of the sacrifices he and other U.S. soldiers have made while assisting the Iraqi people. The Thunder Horse unit officials said they hope the change in the base's name is a sign of progress in the region.
(Army 1st Lt. Stephen Harmon serves with the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)